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76km Guarda to Escalhão

Posted April 15th, 2007

Sunbathing in PortugalToday we moved into our new home.

No, we haven’t given up life on our bikes and bought a house. We just found a temporary home for the night, an abandoned four-wall stone house in the Portugese countryside. Just the walls are left standing (the roof is long since gone) and even they are starting to come apart as time works away at the building, but inside the doorway we found a grassy field in which to pitch our tent. Who knows what the house might have been used for. It is hard to imagine a family living here in this small windowless building. Maybe it only held a farmer’s tools many decades ago.

Before getting to our resting place for the night, we cruised the roads leading north from Guarda. At first they were fairly boring, but after Pinhel the scenery improved considerably, with deep valleys, rivers and fields filled with huge granite boulders – more evidence of the glaciers that once rolled through this area. We had to work harder in this more scenic part though as the roads wound their way down to riverbeds and then duly went back up several hundred meters. For a few minutes we stopped in the shade to watch a shepherd urge his flock of two or three hundred sheep up a hill. It must be hard work, being out in the sun all day. We ended our day by listening to the football on the BBC World Service, a taste of Britain in the middle of Portugal.

55km Covão d’Ametade to Guarda

Posted April 13th, 2007

Looking back towards the Serra da Estrela and ManteigasWe like towns with Our sleeping bags kept us nice and cosy throughout the night as the wind blew down the Zêzere valley and past our tent, following on the icy hailstorm the evening before. We’d been told that the weather could be less than reliable this time of year in the Serra da Estrela and now we were experiencing the whims of the mountains first hand. If you are thinking of cycle touring in this area, don’t come without checking the weather forecast and be prepared for a surprise storm to sneak up on you. Even with the cold, we were glad to have made the effort as the gorgeous scenery continued for a second day.

First we poked our heads out of the tent to take in the view of the beautiful stream, gurgling away past our front door, the start of the river Zêzere. After packing up quickly – the colder it is, the faster we move! – we made our way to the road and immediately benefited from all our hard climbing of the day before. A 30km downhill stretch awaited us, first on a narrow, twisty road that ran right along the edge of the Zêzere valley. We kept on stopping to take pictures and were constantly amazed at the work of the glacier. (more…)

28km Pião – Torre (1993m) – Covão d’Ametade (1420m)

Posted April 12th, 2007

Just a 10% gradeWe are above the clouds!So often on a trip like this, how far you get, or in today’s case how high you get, is all a matter of believing you can do it. We knew we had a tough slog ahead of us when we set out from the campsite at Pião, back onto the roads that we struggled so much with the day before. The ten percent grades continued for several kilometers, before finally giving way to a slightly flatter but still climbing route, set in a dramatic landscape. All around us were small lakes set in large valleys, waterfalls tumbling down from distant heights and tundra fields filled with boulders dropped and polished smooth by glaciers.

As we climbed higher, approaching 1,500m and the town of Penhas de Saúde, dark clouds started to roll in. This wasn’t on the weather forecast! We had checked and been told to expect mostly sun with only cloudy periods, but you can’t control the weather, especially so high up, and before long the rain started to fall. By this time we’d also managed to pick up a couple stray dogs who had adopted us as their exercise trainers and were happily trotting alongside the bikes, making a general nuisance of themselves as they unpredictably ran in front of us every few minutes. In the middle of all this, we reached the crossroads where we’d planned to turn right and descend into the town of Manteigas, but Friedel was struck by a sudden impulse to go all the way to the top: a climb of a further 7km to Torre, 1993m up in the sky and Portugal’s highest point on the mainland. She offered Andrew a deal, either we could climb this hill or the road known as “Europe’s highest” when we reach the Italian Alps in a couple months time. (more…)

39km Paradanta to Pião

Posted April 11th, 2007

Are we there yet?Attention cyclists: the town of Covilhã can be dangerous to your health! After a morning hiding under our tarp in the Serra da Gardunha mountains, waiting for the rain to stop, and then a few hours spent online in the town of Fundão, we had not expected such a tough end to the day as we approached Covilhã. This is definitely not a town to be tackled late in the afternoon, as you will find at least 10km (maybe more, we lost count) of switchbacks and a road that barely drops below a 10 percent grade as you make your way to the nearest campground. Wow, we were sweating and nearly dropped down on our knees when the campsite of Pião finally appeared in front of us. We have tackled a few mountains since September, but rarely do the roads go up with such ferocity over such a long stretch. Only the hope of some beautiful scenery in the Serra da Estrela mountains and glacial valley kept us going. A slap-up meal of rice, chorizo (can you eat too many processed pig products in Portugal? we say no!!) and broccoli, washed down with an emergency bottle of red wine hidding in our panniers helped to set things right. A hot shower was the final icing on the cake before we slid into our tent to sleep very well indeed.

51km Castelo Branco to Paradanta

Posted April 10th, 2007

Another meal out, oh the budget....Friedel hits 10,000km on her bike!!Our “to do” list was growing rather large so this morning we set off to get a few things done: first a shopping trip to refill our panniers. Peanut butter, check. Bananas, check. Large quantities of cheese, check. Chorizo sausage, check. Once we got everything needed to sustain two hungry cyclists and managed to stuff all our new treasures into our bags, we went in search of an internet cafe to update the site. We finally found one, but no thanks to the grumpy and useless policeman who we asked for directions. Our recent experiences have led us to conclude that Portugal has the least helpful police force of the trip so far. Of course by the time we were done all this it was well past lunch so we returned to the little restaurant we found the day before for more grilled fish, salad and wine. Budget be damned. (more…)